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Breaking the speed limit Faster, more efficient working practices will be needed to meet targets for the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line. Matthew Jones reports.

Railtrack project director Tony Cruddas has a reputation for driving through change. His last job was leading the privatisation of Ealing Council's municipal services. Now he says that to complete the £2.2bn modernisation of the West Coast Main Line on time and to budget, changes to Britain's railway working practices are going to have to take place.

'If we approach this in the way that we have traditionally worked in the UK we probably won't achieve it. We have to find a way of using what is available to us more efficiently,' he says.

Cruddas was part of the original team of Brown & Root, Gibb, Booz Allen & Hamilton and Babcock & Brown which carried out the feasibility study for the scheme in 1993. At Railtrack's request he rejoined the project at the end of 1996 on secondment from Brown & Root, and following a management reshuffle last month, now reports directly to engineering and production director Brian Mellitt .

Cruddas describes the project as 'bigger than anything apart from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link', and claims that at its peak Railtrack will be spending £1.5M a day on the scheme - more than a third of the existing daily spend on the entire network.

The first and largest part of the scheme - a £1.4bn core investment programme - will bring the line up to a 'good reliable base position'. This will involve the replacement of life-expired track and ballast, refurbishment of structures and stations and improvements to drainage and power distribution works. In addition a new transmission-based signalling system will be introduced and management of the network will be consolidated to a small number of regional centres (see box).

Around £200M has so far been spent on track and structure renewals, as well as modifications to signalling and catenary in some of the worst blackspots. And although no completion date has been specified for the core investment work, Railtrack has committed to spend a further £550M in the next three years.

The second part of the scheme, the £150M Passenger Upgrade 1 will allow a small increase in capacity and a rise in track speeds to 200km/h along much of the route.

But if as expected the Rail Regulator John Swift approves a track access agreement between Railtrack and Virgin next week, PUG 1 will be superseded by the more ambitious Passenger Upgrade 2 and the whole project will step up a gear.

The £600M scheme will allow Virgin to achieve maximum speeds of up to 225km/h between Euston and Crewe and will increase the number of fast- line trains each hour from six to 12 by mid-2005. Railtrack is also building in spare capacity over and above Virgin's requirements to be sold to operators as and when required.

A new £1.85bn fleet of Virgin tilting trains on order from GEC ALSTHOM/Fiat Ferroviaria should help reduce journey times. But to achieve the planned savings of 45 minutes between London and Manchester, and 90 minutes from London to Glasgow, major civils schemes will be needed to eliminate 'pinch points'.

The works will include extra track laying in some locations and the construction of flyovers or underpasses to avoid conflicts with local train services in others (see map). Contracts will probably be grouped and let as a number of regional packages to provide a schedule of work lasting a number of years.

Cruddas says the aim of the packages is to engender a much greater feeling of co-operation with contractors. He believes it is high time that resource wasting, man-to-man marking on contracts was ended by taking more of an 'alliancing' approach.

Railtrack's most difficult challenge will be to keep services running with the minimum of disruption to passengers. And Cruddas reckons that to succeed it will have to get a lot slicker at granting track possessions, both on weekday nights as well as weekends.

'You could say that only half the available possession time is typically used at the moment. We will have to persuade contractors not to be so conservative in their approach and will also have to look at multi-disciplinary track possessions,' he says.

Under the PUG 2 agreement, Railtrack will have far more direct exposure to fare revenues than at present, with 20% of

its access charges coming from shared revenue with Virgin.

'It is a very complicated formula but the agreement effectively works for a certain number of trains covering the journey in a certain time,' says Cruddas.

If all goes to plan and the construction costs and passenger forecasts are accurate, the arrangement is designed to yield the same as the usual fixed access charges. But if one of the parties does not perform then both will fail.

By signing up to such a 'risk and reward' sharing agreement, Cruddas says both Railtrack and Virgin are incentivised to achieve the common aim of capacity increase as soon as possible.

He adds: 'What we want to deliver to the passenger in the end is an excellent travel experience.

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